Midnight Madness Peter Kuplowsky

TIFF Interview: Midnight Madness Programmer Peter Kuplowsky Shares His Top Picks

Kelly McNeelyFilm Festival, InterviewsLeave a Comment

KM: This is a tough question, but if there’s someone who can only see three films at Midnight Madness this year, what are the must-see movies? 

PK: I’ll maybe frame it like this; there are certain films that I don’t think are going to need a lot of help with regards to hype. I don’t think anyone needs me to say anything else beyond the words Richard Stanley, Nicolas Cage, and HP Lovecraft and not be interested in Color Out of Space. So movies like that maybe don’t need help.

There are a couple of titles I feel I may want to mention, just because there’s so many first-time filmmakers and unknown entities. One film is The Platform, a Spanish feature from Galder Gaztelu-Urrutia — a first-time filmmaker. Per your question earlier about what gets me excited, I was watching screeners and this came on. I think it was after midnight, so I was expecting to watch the first 20 minutes and finish it in the morning, and I was rapt for the entire 90 minutes. I was so excited, because I didn’t know where the movie was going. It’s a science fiction prison movie that absolutely belongs in the pantheon of Stuart Gordon’s Fortress, or Vincenzo Natali’s Cube, and it’s so economically put together.

The Platform via TIFF

It kind of reminds me of the prison room sequence of the Japanese movie Symbol meets The Raid. Because there’s visceral, grotesque action at times, there’s really really brilliant satire; it’s doing so much with very little means in such a creative way with really brilliant performances. I think this is going to be one of the true hidden gems of the lineup that people are going to talk about.

On a similar note, a film that I strongly encourage people to check out is The Vast of Night. It’s another first-time filmmaker, it played Slamdance and so impressed me there that I really wanted to give it a huge platform and a big screen like TIFF. So the comparisons I’ve been making are American Graffiti meets Miracle Mile meets Pontypool; the performances are brilliant, the filmmaking is really wild, I think it’s going to be really inspiring to indie filmmakers to realize what you can accomplish with just a very creative production design.

One of the things I like about Vast and Platform are that they’re genre movies that really prove that the foundation is in the script; make sure your script is rock solid. Because there are moments in The Vast of Night where really the camera is just honing in on a single performance and letting that actor just have a conversation with someone and it is so tense and so creepy and so atmospheric, and yet there isn’t conventional genre elements like explosions or big action. But I’m so impressed by the suspense that the film creates.

And I also want to flag Saint Maud as well. I’ve been comparing it to Raw in terms of the slow-burn Midnighter movie. I think the two performances that sort of anchor the film — the relationship between Morfydd Clark and Jennifer Ehle — are really, really fantastic. It’s super cringey in the way that sometimes slow-burn Midnight films can be, where it’s kind of stabbing you along the way while soaking you in this atmospheric dread and it sort of blows up in a big moment. So those are three movies that might not be on people’s radar.

But I would definitely also toss in that if you’re looking for scary in particular, The Vigil is the film to see. It’s basically the Jewish Exorcist [laughs]. That’s not even my words, those are the words of a Jewish friend of mine who happened to see the film and was like, “now I know how Catholics felt when they watched The Exorcist”. They’re relating it to the mythology and demonology, like, far too much. So that’s a scary movie. 

TIFF Midnight Madness

The Vigil via TIFF

KM: Are there films that you’re really excited about that are in other programs at TIFF?

PK: I cannot wait to watch The Lighthouse again with an audience. I think the thing that people might not expect is that it’s really funny. Maybe it’s my perverse sense of humor, because I thought that Hereditary was really funny [laughs]. I liked The Witch but I LOVE The Lighthouse, so I can’t wait to see that again.

I would also urge people to check out Synchronic which is by Justin Benson and Aaron Moorhead who have been on the genre circuit for the last decade now with Resolution and Spring — which was at TIFF — and The Endless. And if you like any of those movies, it’s very much in that tradition of very conceptual sci-fi that kind of creeps into the movie in a really original and unique way.

And one other movie! This definitely won’t be on people’s radar so I do want to suggest it, it’s called Jallikattu. It’s an Indian horror… not a horror film per se, but it’s incredibly visceral. I’ve been jokingly referring to it as the Indian Jaws. It’s about a bull that’s escaped the slaughter and starts ravaging this Indian village. It’s one of those movies that’s like when Steven Soderbergh watched Mad Max: Fury Road and was like “I don’t understand how people aren’t dead” [laughs] that’s kind of my reaction to this movie. I was just so blown away by the sheer scale of production and the energy and momentum. 

KM: I’m curious, what do you think is the most underrated film of the past year that’s flown under everyone’s radar?

PK: Every summer I don’t see anything, because I’m just watching the next year’s lineup. This isn’t a genre film – and I’ll come up with a genre film in a second – but I think Patrick Wang’s A Bread Factory Part I and Part II is the best American movie to probably be made in the last decade, I think it’s an extraordinary work. I call it Twin Peaks with just the folksy parts and none of the darkness. But let me think of something that might make more sense to recommend to iHorror [laughs]. I mean it’s at the Festival, but Parasite by Bong Joon Ho has definitely done it again, he’s pretty great.

Parasite via TIFF

Something that I honestly would have considered programming at Midnight Madness absolutely is Harmony Korine’s The Beach Bum. Everyone’s excited about the Joker film, I’m excited to see it too, but we already got our Joker movie, and it’s The Beach Bum. This movie basically purports a world in which Batman doesn’t exist, and if Batman doesn’t exist, the Joker would just be a hedonistic, charismatic dude, that did stuff he wanted to do and burned money. It would be super chill. I really, really think that movie was completely slept on. I know it’s not purely genre, but it is chaotic [laughs]. It’s certainly chaotic, and it’s up to the audience to decide whether that’s good, neutral, or evil, but it’s definitely chaotic.

KM: What’s your favorite part of the job? I know that’s a very broad question, but what really gets you excited about doing what you get to do? 

PK: I think my favorite part — there are aspects I like in every stage of the process — but my favorite part is watching the film with the audience. It’s something where I feel very privileged as a programmer; very few programmers get to watch the movie they’ve selected with the audience. I’m so fortunate that because the films are at midnight, there’s nothing else going on. That’s the end of everyone’s day, and in effect, when the movie ends, it’s the end of my day. So I am just there and I sit with the audience and relax, and I’ve always loved that audience so much.

The reactions at Midnight Madness are the reactions of an audience that made me excited to go into film festival programming to begin with. Especially when it’s a film that I personally really like, but I haven’t played anything like that at Midnight Madness before, and I’m not sure how it’s going to work. The filmmakers are definitely often very nervous, but I’m nervous too. I feel excited when something works well with the audience and that when we all kind of become one spirit in watching the madness. 

TIFF Midnight Madness

Color Out of Space via TIFF

KM: That’s something that I absolutely love about the Midnight Madness experience is that you really have that sense of community, that everyone’s there to have a good time and be supportive of the film. It’s unlike any other audience when you go to a movie theatre.

PK: I think for a lot of people, myself included, it’s worth going to a Midnight screening simply to get the rare experience of attending an event where everybody wants to be there. When you go to the multiplex, seeing movies is not always a decision made by people because they want to see a movie, it’s often a decision that’s made to like, kill some time. We don’t know what else to do today [laughs]. So the level of engagement is so much more diminished.

Midnight Madness is a rare opportunity where you can be in a room of 1200 people and everybody wants to be there. Everybody wants to have a good time, and everybody is really open to having a good time. It really is one of the most open and generous audiences a filmmaker can hope for and an audience member can hope to be in. 


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Kelly is a tea drinking, craft making, machete wielding screen junkie who lives in Canada with a collection of horror movies, which she is a little obsessed with. Check out her Creepy Crafter videos or follow her on Instagram and Twitter @kellsmcnells